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Living in Society

Doing The Right Thing

Iowa State Capitol

Governor Kim Reynolds has neither the bandwidth nor expertise to manage the coronavirus pandemic. I didn’t vote for her, yet that is cold comfort. As COVID-19 cases increase in Iowa, and in all 50 states, her latest statement is evidence of her mismanagement. Here it is verbatim.

Reynolds Statement on New COVID-19 Guidance from the Biden Administration

DES MOINES (July 27, 2021) – Governor Reynolds released the following statement following the Biden Administration issuing new COVID-19 guidance:

“The Biden Administration’s new COVID-19 guidance telling fully vaccinated Iowans to now wear masks is not only counterproductive to our vaccination efforts, but also not grounded in reality or common sense. I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support.

“The vaccine remains our strongest tool to combat COVID-19, which is why we are going to continue to encourage everyone to get the vaccine.

“I am proud that we recently put new laws in place that will protect Iowans against unnecessary government mandates in our schools and local governments. As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing.”

Governor’s website, July 27, 2021

The kernel of truth is the third paragraph about the COVID-19 vaccines being our strongest tool to combat the virus. The rest is political bluster.

Iowa is a state where on Wednesday, less than half the population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This statistic is from the Washington Post as the governor has decreased the visibility of state coronavirus statistics by reducing reporting frequency to once per week. Her decision to hide daily data begs for transparency.

The vaccine is widely available and free, so the distribution system created by the Biden administration is not the problem. The governor needs to act more aggressively in her encouragement of vaccination of the remaining half of Iowans. I propose she become a more public advocate of getting vaccinated. Her behavior has been to drop a press conference or written statement and remain otherwise silent.

Much has been made of the Iowa Board of Health missing a meeting because the governor has not appointed enough members for a quorum. While appointing a full board would be nice, helpful even, lack of a board of health is not the main issue. There is plenty of competent guidance about what the state should do. If the guidance doesn’t fit the governor’s framing, she’s not listening.

She closes by saying. “I trust Iowans to do the right thing.” It is a purposefully vague and meaningless statement subject to interpretation. This phrasing has become a political talking point. The way I interpret it is to listen to the Biden administration, do my best to comply with the new CDC guidance, and work hard to elect a new governor in 2022. Especially that last part.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

Miller-Meeks: Divisive Blabbermouth

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks ran a successful fourth campaign for congress and now represents Iowa’s Second Congressional District. People argue with that statement, saying they stopped counting the votes, yet it is accurate.

Her first three campaigns (2008, 2010 and 2014) were won consistently by Dave Loebsack, even in 2010 when Republicans began taking back control of the state. Loebsack won in 2010 with 51 percent of the vote to Miller-Meeks’ 46 percent.

Her several campaigns created many opportunities to hear her speak and ask questions over a 13-year period. She is a relatively known entity.

What is new and a bit unexpected, is she used her long awaited victory to become a blabbermouth. Today, my Google Alert finds Miller-Meeks saying something noteworthy to someone a couple of times a day. With her regular appearances on FOX News, she attempts to carve a peculiar narrative of her drawn-out election victory. I preferred it when our district’s member of Congress had less to say and wasn’t constantly spinning talking points.

During the time constituents were represented by Jim Leach and Dave Loebsack, we didn’t hear from them much. Our expectation was we wouldn’t hear from them unless it was important. We are used to our member of Congress being above the fray. Leach and Loebsack were the ones who evaluated data and legislation with their district foremost in mind. While Leach was definitely a Republican, he presented an image of bi-partisanship that won him many district fans. Miller-Meeks evaluates legislation based on her partisanship first and make no pretense about it.

Miller-Meeks’ no vote on the American Rescue Plan epitomizes her partisanship. No Republican in the Congress voted for the law. At the same time Iowans specifically benefited from features of the law. Although the congresswoman has been less vocal about the benefits, her staff is in a position to have to help Iowans with the programs. While voting no, she gains favorable attention by helping constituents.

It is more than she speaks excessively. Miller-Meeks is purposely divisive and the district has not seen this for decades. Jim Leach’s reputation was built on being the guy who could be persuaded to cross the aisle on legislation. Miller-Meeks votes against laws she recognizes will pass without her vote and enjoys the benefit of Democratic policy among voters. She is able to cynically say, “I voted against that bill” to her base, while her staff helps constituents secure benefits. Perhaps the correct descriptive term is Rep. Miller-Meeks is a “divisive blabbermouth.”

For the present, the congresswoman is who she is and as she speaks openly and often, constituents have a chance to get to know her. I doubt people are as tuned into her daily activity as we are at Blog for Iowa. Her frequent unexpected and divisive statements are money in the political bank for Democrats–a reserve that will be spent as Democrats identify a candidate and begin the 2022 Congressional campaign.

Let her go on talking. There will be a price to pay before her term is up.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

Iowa’s 2022 Campaigns Haven’t Truly Started

Small yet mighty turnout of Democrats at the July 17, 2021 Solon Beef Days parade in Johnson County.

The deputy chief of staff to Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks was recently bragging on Twitter, “When you got $1.17 million in the bank and no democrat opponent.” With it he posted an image of an apparently happy, but not smiling congresswoman.

Not so fast buckaroo! There will be opponents… and money.

If you’ve been following along, there are currently only two declared Democratic candidates for statewide office in Iowa: David Muhlbauer for U.S. Senate and Ras Smith for Governor. Others are kicking the tires on runs for congress, senate and governor, but until the districts are defined–hopefully in September–a lot is up in the air. For the time being Muhlbauer and Smith have the Democratic playing field to themselves. One hopes they are taking advantage of their early entry into the 2022 campaign.

If I were a Republican, I’d say the current districts, with a few tweaks to even out population growth, could serve. We became a Republican state with these districts. There is no evidence they want that or are planning anything but accepting the first map from the Legislative Services Agency. Republicans are also good at keeping secrets, so who knows? What they do shall be revealed.

To fill the absence of campaigns, I walk in parades where it makes sense, write letters to the editor and blog posts, and try to support the county party from a distance in my Republican pocket of Iowa’s most Democratic county. I donate a small, monthly amount to the Iowa Democratic Party and get no further than the state borders with my donations.

I could speculate about potential campaigns but what would be the point? After the drubbing we took in 2020, it seems best for Democrats to keep our powder dry until we know something. As we get through redistricting, and the rest of this post-pandemic summer, we’ll find out where we are heading. I’m okay with periodic gaps in the action.

This morning I opened my father’s King James Bible and found the well read passage from Romans 13:12, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” We’ll be casting off the tweets of Miller-Meeks’ staff. Democrats have to work smarter because, as Alexander Pope put it in the 18th Century, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

Democrats can’t afford to be fools in 2022.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

Shrinking the Tax Gap

On July 14, I participated in an online briefing with former IRS Commissioners Fred Goldberg Jr. and Charles Rossotti on modernizing the IRS and shrinking the tax gap.

Goldberg was appointed as IRS Commissioner by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 and served three years. Rossotti was named IRS Commissioner in 1997 by President Bill Clinton. He served five years. Both former IRS commissioners are members of the group Shrink the Tax Gap, which states each year there is a tax gap of $574 billion in taxes that are owed to the IRS but not paid. Their position is simple and clear. Most people pay their taxes. Some people don’t, and that’s not fair.

In an article by James Q. Lynch, Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (IA-01), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said of bills the committee was marking up, “I think that these bills disrespect taxpayers.”

What if we collected taxes due the IRS to help pay for them? Would that respect taxpayers?

Hinson supports expanding the child tax credit in the American Rescue Plan, but has concerns about the price tag of the bill that includes sending payments averaging $423 a month to about 35 million families with children. Hinson, like every Republican member of Congress, voted against the American Rescue Plan. When we are talking about price tags, the elephant in the room is the hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid taxes created by the tax gap.

President Joe Biden proposed spending more money on the IRS so it could pursue tax deadbeats. We’re talking about people who have unpaid tax bills, not creating new taxes. Republican U.S. Senators want no part of this.

“What Republican senators object to here is training IRS investigators on people and corporations who are deliberately trying to cheat the system (not to mention the American people) and have the resources to do so,” wrote Kerry Eleveld at Daily Kos. “Instead, (they) would clearly rather just keep the IRS focused on smaller fish, who may have messed up some calculation on TurboTax, for instance. Why? Because the small fries aren’t delivering enough to GOP campaign coffers, that’s why.”

Paying taxes is so basic to being an American I believe most voters would support collecting taxes due. Yet that’s not how our government is evolving. The Republican minority seeks to retain control over the tax system to benefit the minority of wealthy Americans.

In Sunday news, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) announced Biden’s plan to fund the IRS is officially off the table in the bipartisan infrastructure bill because he got “pushback” from fellow Republican lawmakers who dislike the idea of giving the IRS the tools it needs to collect taxes owed. Portman is a key negotiator for Republicans on this bill. It will be up to Democrats to pass this provision through reconciliation in the separate $3.5 Trillion infrastructure bill to which their caucus has agreed.

Do your job Congress. Shrink the tax gap.

For more information about Shrink the Tax Gap, click here.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

Summer Community Parades are Back Despite the Pandemic

State Senator Kevin Kinney and County Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass at the Solon Beef Days parade in Solon, Iowa on July 17, 2021.

Most people along the parade route reacted positively to the Johnson County Democrats entry in the Solon Beef Days Parade on July 17. All over the state, parades have re-emerged as a social activity after missing last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. While the parade was a positive event reflecting community values and attitudes, it’s clear the pandemic is not over as vaccinations lag behind what is needed.

Nationally, 161 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing 48.5 percent of the population. We are about the same percentage in Iowa with a million and a half people, or 49.0 percent of the population, fully vaccinated. The daily rate of vaccination has slowed considerably during parade season.

On Friday, Nick Coltrain of the Des Moines Register reported the majority of hospitalizations for COVID-19 are among people who are not vaccinated:

Almost all of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 since the spring have been unvaccinated against the disease, spokespeople for three of Iowa’s largest health care systems said.

At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, upward of 90% of patients admitted due to COVID-related illness since April have been unvaccinated, spokesperson Laura Shoemaker told the Des Moines Register. About 95% of patients hospitalized at UnityPoint facilities since March 2021 were not fully vaccinated, spokesperson Macinzie McFarland said. And at MercyOne’s Des Moines hospitals, 97% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 were not vaccinated, spokesperson Clara Johnson said in an email.

The COVID-19 vaccine has been widely available to anyone 16 and older since April 5.

Iowa City Press Citizen, July 16, 2021

It was fun giving small American flags to children lining the parade route on Saturday. We live for such moments of small joys and happiness. However, the potential for disaster looms in the fall when children are required to return to in-person instruction at schools around the state.

We know the way to avert disaster is to get a higher percentage of the population vaccinated. Yet there is not an approved vaccine for children under age 12, and poor vaccination rates among school-aged children who are eligible. With the combination of low vaccine rates, a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, and a population that clings irrationally to the idea that the COVID-19 vaccine is in some way dangerous or not needed, trouble is fermenting in Iowa.

While enjoying parade season, I hope our actual experience in the fall proves me wrong about new, school-based COVID-19 outbreaks. We have the information to do what is right. Yet as raconteur, philosopher and satirist Ron White said, “You can’t fix stupid.” That’s where we are with half Iowa’s population.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

Iowa Redistricting is Coming

Prairie Restoration Area at Lake Macbride State Park

Like most Iowa political activists, I’ve been looking forward to new political districts to be created during the decennial, non-partisan redistricting process. Republican legislators repeatedly asserted they wouldn’t change the law and didn’t.

While door-knocking in Wilton during the first election in our current districts, a voter asked where I was from. When I answered, they said, “that’s too far away. I don’t want to be part of that district.” I suspect there was a lot of that going around.

Because the Trump administration botched the U.S. Census (intentionally, most agree), we’ve been waiting for final numbers so a special session of the Iowa legislature can be called and the matter put to rest before the September deadline. On Wednesday, Katie Akin with Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the new census numbers should be released Aug. 16. She laid out the redistricting process in her article, which can be read here.

Most voters don’t care as much as I do about new districts, and the shortage of congressional and state house candidate activity this summer is evidence careers are on hold until redistricting is finished by Sept. 15 when the governor is required to sign the law.

One assumes Iowa Republicans are no different from in other states and want to redistrict in a way that increases their hold on government, or at least solidifies present advantages. How far will they go?

The measure of monkey-business is whether the map prepared by the Legislative Services Agency will be accepted by Republicans on the first or second vote. If it isn’t, that’s a sign trouble is afoot. Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland has been following and writing about the process and I defer to her granular detail, which can be read here.

In 2011, only two legislators voted against the first map and it was adopted without fanfare. The best Democrats could hope for in 2021 is something similar.

Politico makes the case Republicans are weighing “cracking ” cities to maximize the number of members of congress in each state. As Mount Vernon attorney Nate Willems posted on Twitter, “Fortunately it would be unconstitutional to try to divide Polk County into two congressional districts.” If Polk County could be divided, that would put current congresswoman Cindy Axne at a disadvantage during her re-election campaign. While Iowa Republicans have previously violated the constitution in passing laws, to do so by dividing Des Moines into two separate congressional districts seems unlikely.

“It’s been my experience in studying history that when you get real cute (with redistricting), you end up in a lawsuit — and you lose it. And then the courts redraw the lines,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.). “So my advice would be to keep Louisville blue.”

So it is for the Democratic island of Johnson County, Iowa, which is expected to gain one more state house district completely within its borders. The key element of gerrymandering is to concentrate the opposition party in fewer districts. If there is a way to do that, trust that Iowa Republicans will. I expect they will leave Johnson County alone.

For their part, Iowa Republicans have been tight-lipped about redistricting. As the last legislative session demonstrated, they can keep a secret and surprise us with things normal people wouldn’t expect. Let’s do our part to make sure the redistricting process is truly non-partisan by staying in touch with our legislators and holding them to account. I know I will.

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Living in Society

There’s a Reason Republicans Call It ‘Communist China’

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

“The unprecedented global challenges that the United States faces today—climate change, pandemics, nuclear proliferation, massive economic inequality, terrorism, corruption, authoritarianism—are shared global challenges. They cannot be solved by any one country acting alone. They require increased international cooperation—including with China, the most populous country on earth.” ~ Sen. Bernie Sanders, June 18, 2021

Readers have likely noticed recent Republican reference to “Communist China.” They seek to create a bogeyman to scare the electorate–one more trick in their fear-mongering bag used to dominate low-knowledge voters.

In a recent article on the Portside website, Sen. Sanders laid out how relations with China have changed, why they remain important, and require further change despite challenges.

“It is distressing and dangerous, therefore, that a fast-growing consensus is emerging in Washington that views the U.S.-Chinese relationship as a zero-sum economic and military struggle,” Sanders wrote. “The prevalence of this view will create a political environment in which the cooperation that the world desperately needs will be increasingly difficult to achieve.”

As far as a military struggle goes, the claim that China challenges the U.S. militarily is exaggerated.

It’s important to begin any assessment of the challenge from China by noting that the United States currently outpaces it militarily by a large margin. The U.S. has a more modern air force, a more capable navy and a far larger nuclear arsenal than China, and it spends roughly three times as much on its military. The spending gap widens considerably when U.S. allies in NATO, Australia, Japan, and South Korea are taken into account.

The nuclear gap is especially stark – the United States’ active nuclear stockpile is 11 times the size of China’s and deployed U.S. warheads are five times what China possesses. The gap between the U.S. and Chinese militaries is documented in detail in a recent analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

William Hartung, Forbes Magazine, June 22, 2021

As recently as 2000, the consensus in the United States was that China should be granted “permanent normal trade relations” status or PNTR, according to Sanders. It may be familiar to hear that to compete in a global economy, U.S. companies require access to Chinese markets.

“At that time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the corporate media, and virtually every establishment foreign policy pundit in Washington insisted that PNTR was necessary to keep U.S. companies competitive by giving them access to China’s growing market, and that the liberalization of China’s economy would be accompanied by the liberalization of China’s government with regard to democracy and human rights,” wrote Sanders.

This approach was wrong according to Sanders, as is the current approach of casting China as villainous. “For the American people to thrive,” Sanders wrote. “Others around the world need to believe that the United States is their ally and that their successes are our successes.” He supports President Biden’s approach toward relations with China.

To learn more about the change in Republican views toward China, and why it is important to coming elections, I recommend reading the two linked articles. I also recommend we don’t let Republican scare tactics divide us.

~ First Published on Blog for Iowa.

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Living in Society Sustainability

A World Without Nuclear Weapons

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

While it got scant notice in the U.S. press, the joint statement after the Geneva, Switzerland meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin was significant:

We, President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, note the United States and Russia have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.

The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.

The White House, June 16, 2021.

The joint statement echoed what President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev said 36 years earlier in Geneva, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

“The complete abolition of nuclear weapons is the only way to be safe from their threat,” president of Physicians for Social Responsibility of Los Angeles Robert Dodge, M.D. wrote in Common Dreams.

The United States and Russia possess far more nuclear weapons than the rest of the nuclear states combined, enough to destroy life as we know it on Earth many times over. The two states working toward strategic stability is essential to compliance with Article VI of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. During the previous U.S. administration, future compliance with the NPT came into doubt. President Biden is getting the U.S. back on the right track.

That’s not to say it will be easy. As Dodge points out, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into force January 22 this year. Currently it has been signed by 86 nations and been ratified by 54. Neither Russia nor the U.S. have joined the treaty and the prospects of them doing so near term are dim.

All nine nuclear states must take a step back from the brink of nuclear annihilation. The Geneva statement on strategic stability suggests it is possible to do so.

To learn more about the U.S. grassroots organizing effort to produce the safer, healthier and more just world that is possible without nuclear weapons, visit the Back from the Brink website.

~ First Published on Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

In the Mix Again

Iowa City Community Band float in the July 4, 2021 Coralville parade.

I walked in the Coralville Fourth of July parade with two different groups: the first half with the Johnson County Democrats, and the rest with The People’s Coalition for Social, Economic & Environmental Justice. It was the first post COVID-19 vaccine social event I attended with people I know.

Regulars from previous years were missing, notably the World War Two veterans from Veterans for Peace, but also many my age or older. My cohort is stepping back from parade walking, even though there was a trailer with straw bales for anyone who wanted to sit during the two-mile route. Ambient temperatures reached the high eighties, so it was probably best for septuagenarians and older to stay indoors.

The community was out in force. Coralville is diverse and much different from the rest of Iowa. I enjoy the informal socialization that is part of walking in a parade.

Group photo of the Johnson County Democrats at the Coralville parade. Photo from Zach Wahls.

It is positive the Democrats are transitioning to younger people. State Senator Zach Wahls will turn 30 in a few days, and State Rep. Christina Bohannan just turned 50. State Rep. Dave Jacoby was the oldest of the state legislators present at 65. The contingent was made of about half elected officials and half local political activists. Our presence was less than it has been during general election years.

The People’s Coalition is comprised of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace, PEACE Iowa, 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, and other peace and justice friends. A characteristic of our local activities is collaboration when working on projects. I’ve been with Physicians for Social Responsibility since I was on the board of health, served on the board of PEACE Iowa, and am a charter member of our Veterans for Peace chapter. It was good to catch up with old timers like myself.

T-shirt I wore in the July 4, 2021 Coralville parade.

I received many compliments for the t-shirt I wore. I bought it from J.C. Penney for pride month yet didn’t attend any public events at which to wear it. The messaging, “love is love,” was very popular at the parade. People said, “I like your t-shirt,” multiple dozens of times. I said thank you when I could and Happy 4th of July. Someone shouted out, “go gay people!” I’m not sure what the sincere statement of support meant but acknowledged it.

It’s hard to say if I will attend future parades. I made it through yesterday and it was enjoyable. As long as that’s the case there is a reason to participate.

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Living in Society

Congressional Exaggeration

Woman Writing Letter

Mariannette Miller-Meeks sounds like she’s having trouble dealing with a narrow win in her 2020 election. On June 22, she said on FOX News, “Democrats want Americans to believe state election laws are broken so they can then sell their ‘Corrupt Politicians Act’ as a means to fix the ‘broken’ system.”

The appeal Rita Hart made to the certified election results is evidence election laws are working as they were designed. I understand neither Miller-Meeks nor prominent Iowa Republicans liked the appeal. They should have let the law play out as it is designed to do and as it ultimately did. Instead they complained and made exaggerated claims like this one on FOX News.

“Corrupt Politicians Act” is the same framing used by the right wing Heritage Foundation to characterize the “For the People Act.” Miller-Meeks likely used the Heritage talking point because it’s curious she rolled out this opinion piece at the same time Heritage used the phrase to activate their followers to oppose S.1.

In her FOX News statement, Miller-Meeks naively admitted the irony in proposing the “For the People Act”: Democrats demonstrated the legislative process is not broken. With a slim majority, Democrats walked through the front door and proposed to stop recent Republican-passed laws that aim to modify the voting process.

Agree or disagree, it is the hallmark of our form of government. Miller-Meeks should spend more time in her district talking to voters from all parties to build on her six-vote margin in 2022.

~ Submitted to several local newspapers. First published in Little Village on June 24, 2021.